8

John 21:15a reads

NA28

Ὅτε οὖν ἠρίστησαν λέγει τῷ Σίμωνι Πέτρῳ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Σίμων Ἰωάννου, ἀγαπᾷς με πλέον τούτων;

ESV

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

τούτων (these) can be:

a) either:

  • masculine
  • neuter

b) functioning within the (mostly implied) comparative clause as either:

  • the direct object of a second implied ἀγαπᾷς (you love)
  • the subject of an implied ἀγαπωσι(ν) με (they love me)1

This leaves several possibilities to translate the question:2

  • Do you love me more than you love these things?
  • Do you love me more than you love these other disciples?
  • Do you love me more than these other disciples love me?
  • (An absurdity: Do you love me more than these things love me?)

The ESV allows for any of these.3 Most other English translations have something similar. The NET chooses the third.

How should we understand John’s (report of Jesus’s) comparison?


1. If I understand correctly, the genitive case is marking its function in the sentence as the basis of comparison after πλέον and is thus not helpful to determine its subject/object function in the clause. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong about that!

2. Probably there are more. These are what I can think of and have been offered by the NET notes and the Expositors Greek Testament – minus the absurd one.

3. Sort of. The 3rd(/4th) are grammatically acceptable but certainly not the clearest English if that is the interpretation.

2

An initial approach might be to survey other occurrences of the comparative "more" followed by a genitive. I'll start by introducing a notation to help compare structures, using (A, B, C) for people, (X, Y) for things, V for a verb and > for "more than":

Do you love me more than you love these things?

A loves me more than A loves X: AVC > AVX

Do you love me more than you love these other disciples?

A loves me more than A loves others: AVC > AVB

Do you love me more than these other disciples love me?

A loves me more than others love me: AVC > BVC

(An absurdity: Do you love me more than these things love me?)

A loves me more than X love me: AVC > XVC

And now, here are all the occurrences in the New Testament:

Mt 5:20

ἐὰν μὴ περισσεύσῃ ὑμῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη πλεῖον τῶν γραμματέων καὶ Φαρισαίων

unless your propriety could exceed more than the theologians and separatists,

A has of X more than B has of X: AVX > BVX

Mt 12:41-42, Lk 11:31-32

καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ ὧδε...καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Σολομῶνος ὧδε.

and look, more than Jonas here...and look, more than Solomon here.

A more than B: A > B

Mt 21:36

πάλιν ἀπέστειλεν ἄλλους δούλους πλείονας τῶν πρώτων,

again he sent other slaves more than the first

A sent more X than old A did: AVX > A'VX

Mt 26:53

καὶ παραστήσει μοι ἄρτι πλείω δώδεκα λεγιῶνας ἀγγέλων;

and will present to me just now more than twelve legions of angels?

A presents more than N X: AV(X > N)

Mk 12:43, Lk 21:3

ἡ χήρα αὕτη ἡ πτωχὴ πλεῖον πάντων ἔβαλεν

this beggar widow cast more than all

A cast X more than B cast X: AVX > BVX

Jn 21:15

ἀγαπᾷς με πλέον τούτων;

do you love me more than (?) these?

?

Ac 4:22

ἐτῶν γὰρ ἦν πλειόνων τεσσεράκοντα ὁ ἄνθρωπος

for the person was more than forty years

A was more than N X: NA > NX

Ac 23:13

ἦσαν δὲ πλείους τεσσεράκοντα

but they were more than forty

A was more than N X: NA > NX

Ac 23:21

ἐνεδρεύουσιν γὰρ αὐτὸν ἐξ αὐτῶν ἄνδρες πλείους τεσσεράκοντα,

for more than forty men of them lie in wait for him,

A was more than N X: NA > NX

Ac 25:6

Διατρίψας δὲ ἐν αὐτοῖς ἡμέρας οὐ πλείους ὀκτὼ ἢ δέκα,

but when he traveled among them not more than eight or ten days,

A traveled not more than N X: AV(X > N)

1 Cor 10:5

ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐν τοῖς πλείοσιν αὐτῶν ηὐδόκησεν ὁ θεός

but God did not think highly in the more than them

A did not think highly in the more than B: AV in > B?

Php 1:14

καὶ τοὺς πλείονας τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ...τολμᾶν

and the more of the brothers in lord...to dare

more A (than previously) to dare: (A > A')V

Re 2:19

Οἶδά...τὰ ἔργα σου τὰ ἔσχατα πλείονα τῶν πρώτων,

I have seen...your last works more than the first

A has seen...your last X more than A has seen your first X: AVX > AVY

however, this has also been read:

A has seen...your last X is more than your first X: AV(X > Y)

Summarizing:

  • AVX > BVX (2)
  • AVX > A'VX
  • A > B
  • AV(X > N) (2)
  • NA > NX (3)
  • AV in > B?
  • B > AV
  • AVX > AVY or possibly AV(X > Y)

Looking only at the options you identified:

  • AVC > AVX: "Do you love me more than you love these things?" might be supported by Rev 2:19, although it has things as objects instead of people, but it has an alternate reading, too.
  • AVC > AVB: "Do you love me more than you love these other disciples?" has even less support.
  • AVC > BVC: "Do you love me more than these other disciples love me?", although it has no direct support of persons as the object, it has good support when things are the object. One might even include Mt 21:36, where actor "B" is actor "A" in the past.
  • AVC > XVC: "Do you love me more than these things love me?" has no occurrences.

Therefore, although a more extensive survey of other contemporaneous works should be done, I'd lean mostly on option 3: "Do you love me more than these other disciples love me?"

  • I really like this way of thinking about it, thank you! I need to spend more time looking through this, but it seems like part of the trouble is that the contruction with a verb is relatively uncommon and doesn't occur elsewhere in John (+/- Revelation). – Susan Aug 31 '14 at 2:50
  • (Theologians and separatists?? Is that yours?) – Susan Aug 31 '14 at 2:52
  • ("Theologians and separatists" are terms from my developing translation. I'm trying to give a reading that is more easily apprehensible to the non-church-goer. But the above is arranged to be closer to the Greek for comparison clarity.) – fumanchu Aug 31 '14 at 16:14
1
  • Word and its form: In the Greek (τούτων), the word is a Demonstrative Pronoun in the Genitive Masculine Plural.
  • Gender and Number: Masculine Plural - therefore, the Lord is asking about a comparison with the other (male) disciples.
  • Genitive ~ Defines possession by "these" (the disciples) and not Peter
  • Conclusion: Peter is being asked by the Lord whether he loves Him more than the other disciples love Him.

Interlinear Greek Study resource

Thanks!

1

The correct answer is your third option, "Do you love me more than these other disciples love me?"

In the full verse, Peter uses a different word than Jesus for "love" - a distinction that the ESV - along with the KJV, NKJV, RSV, NIV, and NASB - overlooks. A more literal translation is in the Orthodox New Testament (Evangelistarion):

"Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou [ἀγαπᾷς] Me more than these?"

He saith to Him, "Yes, Lord, Thou knowest that I have affection for [φιλῶ] for Thee."

The editors note:

Jesus uses the more dignified and nobler word, agapao. Simon Peter does not use Christ's word agapao for high and devoted love, but the humbler phileo for love as a friend.

Op. cit., p. 556

In other words, Peter did not want to claim to love Christ in someway superior than the way in which the other Apostles loved Him.

Chrysostom's commentaries (which were written in Greek) on this passage seem not to entertain the possibility that "lovest thou Me more than these" relates to anything other than Peter loving Christ more than the Apostles loved Him. Bede is commenting on a Latin translation, but the Latin closely follows the Greek and I think applies here:

We must note how cautiously and circumspectly Peter gave testimony to his love. When the Lord sought to know whether he loved Him more than the rest, Peter did not presume to answer. He gave a restrained and simple reply. This is clearly to say, 'I know, as Thou knowest even better than I do, that I love Thee wholeheartedly; as to whether the others love Thee, that is something unknown to me, but Thou knowest all things.

Homilies on the Gospels, Homily II

1

Jesus asked Peter if he loved him "more than these- things"

Jesus asked Peter if he loved him "more than these- things" , obviously showing Peter the large catch of fish . Peter had love for his fishing and perhaps this, would compete for his love for Jesus. We know that Peter denied Jesus three times, (Matthew 26:69-75) so now Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to show his love three times for Him, in front of his follow disciples. How? By feeding and nourishing his sheep, that is Jesus faithful followers.

ESV 21 :15-17

15 "When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep."

  • +1 Christ's initial calling in Matthew 4:18-19 is reiterated and confirmed once more: 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men' Peter's knee-jerk in John 21:3 was to return to something simple, understandable, and secure: namely his vocation prior to his calling. The context seems to strongly agree that Jesus was asking whether Peter loved him more than 'these' fish. Christ's response: (feed my lambs/sheep) also uses creature metaphors. – Benjamin Bolton Dec 22 '17 at 6:04

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